The press release that goes along with the latest offering from Black Label Society, Doom Crew Inc., promises more guitar than ever before thanks to an increased presence from Dario Lorina.
Those familiar with the guitar wizardry that is Zakk Wylde might wonder why the hell this album even needs a second guitarist, but one thing I have learnt over the years is NEVER question Zakk Wylde.
So, it is with much excitement I ready my ears and hit play, and imagine my surprise when the gentle strains of Set You Free filter through the air in what was the last thing I expected to open the album.
Now, Zakk is known for his love of a laugh, and I am guessing that is exactly what he did here – at our expense – as Set You Free quickly changes gear and the customary sounds that are part of any BLS album soon come to the fore.
Wylde has a distinctive guitar sound, even for those like myself that have no idea how to pull such sounds from the instrument, and his is one tone easily audible and decipherable in the metal landscape.
It doesn’t take long for the first guitar solo, and what a solo it is!
I can’t remember the last time (probably a BLS release) where guitars dominated so much from the outset, setting the scene for another instant classic from this band who never fail to deliver.
Destroy & Conquer opens with a swirl of guitar, pounding away like a musical sledgehammer, probing for a weakness, of which none is forthcoming.
The second guitar really comes to the fore here, almost goading the other into action while never threatening to dominate.
The guitars are beautifully placed in the mix, and although it is obvious who the star of the show is that doesn’t once diminish the role played by Lorina.
The guitars almost dual for supremacy, the soaring guitar work of Wylde building to breaking point before being pulled back into line to continue the precise musicianship openly on display.
Doom Crew Inc. is pitched as an album paying tribute to bands that are “the first to bleed, last to leave”, and you can almost feel the sweat stained stench of a live gig with each note.
You Made Me Want To Live opens with distorted guitar, almost restrained as Wylde’s voice soothes over the top, caressing the track into life before the rock machine kicks in to smother the early sentiment.
The track ebbs and flows, solely on the power of Wylde’s voice, painting a sorrowful, almost mournful picture of adulation. It is an interesting number in that it feels like an intended ballad but refuses to be restrained in such a manner. More mood inducing solo’s punctuate the back half of the song and you can almost hear Wylde’s guitar weep in homage to the song’s subject matter.
Forever And A Day starts as you would expect a song with this title, easing gently into a peaceful number by way of piano that highlights another side to Wylde’s vocal delivery.
It is strangely comforting and stripped back, allowing the serene nature of the music to weave its way through what is obviously a personal song for the band.
End Of Days returns to the down tuned thunder made famous by BLS.
Although not an out and out rock number, it still fits firmly in the world populated by BLS and their heavy, blues-tinged hard rock style of music.
In an interesting development the pace slows down considerably around the middle of the song, gentle guitar and Wylde’s voice becoming the centerpiece of the track before a momentary pause gives way to electric guitar once more and the pace shifts once more to the harder edge of blues.
This one song is a perfect example of the depth and substance inherent in BLS’s music, refusing to be kept down to the tried and true formula, instead allowing itself to veer in whatever direction the music sees fit to move.
Ruins rumbles into life courtesy of a sweepingly epic guitar lick that slowly gathers momentum before snapping into life, Wylde’s sorrowful vocals adding to the impact of the music. Building to an all out guitar war towards the end, each note feels as though it belongs.
Doom Crew Inc. was recorded at Wylde’s home Black Vatican Studio, and you can tell he put many hours into getting the mix and balance right.
Each instrument perfectly complements those surrounding them, the playful nature of the dueling guitars seemingly effortless while instilling a life of their own into proceedings.
Forsake explodes to life with the feel of that live bar from the movie Roadhouse that was surrounded by caged walls to protect the band from the riffraff seemingly drawn towards music of this ilk.
Switching effortlessly between blues driven guitar and all out rock, Forsake is so far the standout track for me!
Love Reign Down is a beautiful piano number that again showcases the musical diversity at Wylde’s disposal, but at this time of night I need something a little more upbeat to keep me going, so let’s move on shall we?
Gospel Of Lies provides just that, it’s sludgy, almost doom fuelled guitar intro reminiscent of the Black Sabbath era of metal.
The music is that heavy you can almost feel its weight crushing from your inner ears outwards, before a well-placed guitar lick elevates proceedings and sets the tone for a well crafted track that ebbs and flows at will.
And here lies the beauty of BLS’s music.
The band knows what the fans want to hear, and although they accommodate for the most part, they also aim to please themselves first and foremost.
The whole album sounds and feels like that of a band comfortable in themselves and their surroundings, with nothing feeling forced or formulaic.
Just when it seems like you have Gospel Of Lies worked out, Wylde decides to throw in another elongated – yet completely warranted – guitar solo to change the whole complexion of the song.
Bravo Mr. Wylde. Bravo.
Shelter Me reverbs into life, led by a hypnotic guitar piece that draws you deeper in with each note.
Building slowly via guitar, the song soon gives way to the familiar groove as only BLS can muster, and only now has the true gravity of BLS and their sound has actually sunk in.
All of their music has that familiar feel to it, while never being bogged down by repetition or over-indulgence.
And that’s a good thing in the modern age.
Gather All My Sins starts with a straight-out blues lick before the drums come in over the top and once again we are off on a journey into the musical psyche of BLS.
Moving along at a faster pace, the song still maintains its blues/rock sensibilities at a stage where most other songs of this era seem to get bogged down in their own self-importance.
Guitars wail at set junctures, allowed room to breath by the absence of other instruments, and you can almost sense that this track will be the scene for an elongated jam session next time BLS take to the stage.
Album closer Farewell Ballad is just that, but strangely closes out Doom Crew Inc. in surprisingly beautiful fashion.
Led by soaring guitars, it almost feels as though BLS know many fans will be left exhausted after listening through the preceding 11 tracks and want to send their loyal fans out on a tranquil note rather than leave them with a sense of unfinished business.
Doom Crew Inc. is yet another complete body of work from BLS, and one that once more proves that metal doesn’t have to be relentless to be accessible.
Especially if your name is Zakk Wylde.